If Corona Were the Flu

Trying to understand the Corona virus and how it is affecting society is an exercise in frustration. Sifting through all of the news, blogs, tweets, gossip to get to accurate and useful data is hard. We are getting told “Social Distance”, “Stay at Home”, “Flatten The Curve”. But they are not presenting clear data to back up these statements. So I dig in and try to understand the data for myself. This is my attempt to present the data in a picture that will help people realize why we need to take all these extreme measures.

Flu Hospitalization and Mortality

So the first picture is “What if Corona were the flu”.

Lets start with flu data from CDC. I have picked a number within the ranges specified, assuming the number is towards the top of the range.

  • 50,000,000 infections (15% of US population)
  • 600,000 hospitalizations (1.2% of infections)
  • 60,000 deaths (.12% of infections)

COVID-19 Same Infection Rate as Flu, Low Mortality

And now imagine we leave the infection rate the same but change the hospitalization and death rates to those of COVID-19. Based on the COVID-19 data from CDC the hospitalization and death percentages are (using the lowest percentage in the range) 21% and 1.8% respectively. I’m actually going to further lower the death rate to only 1% for now. With that here is what COVID-19 would look like

  • 50,000,000 infections (15% of US population)
  • 10,500,000 hospitalizations (21% of infections)
  • 500,000 deaths (1% of infections)

COVID-19 Conservative Infection Rate, Low Mortality

Based on the assumption that COVID-19 had the same infection rate as the flu, and that our medical system could handle the increased hospitalization rate, the US would lose half a million people. But those are not valid assumptions.

COVID-19 is much more contagious than flu. After watching Ninja Nerd Science I am going with a conservative estimate of twice as contagious, doubling our infections.

  • 100,000,000 infections (30% of US population)
  • 21,000,000 hospitalizations (21% of infections)
  • 1,000,000 deaths (1% of infections)

COVID-19 Conservative Infection Rate, Conservative Mortality for Overloaded Hospitals

And our medical system can also not handle the patient load. And so the death rate will go up as people can not get the medical treatment they require. Lets also make a conservative change and put the death rate back to the 1.8% of the CDC data.

  • 100,000,000 infections (30% of US population)
  • 21,000,000 hospitalizations (21% of infections)
  • 1,800,000 deaths (1.8% of infections)


Even the conservative picture of COVID-19 without any “extreme measures” is pretty grim. The actual picture if we did not try to reduce the infection rate and prevent hospitals from being completely overloaded would likely be much worse.

I am feeling a little stir crazy after only two weeks of “Stay at Home”. And practicing “Social Distance” when I do have to go out for food is awkward, physically difficult in the typical grocery store, and emotionally draining. But is the cost of staying home worth saving over a million lives?

And how many lives we save is dependent on how well we do “Stay at Home” and “Social Distance”. To achieve what the CDC is projecting ( 100,000 to 200,000) we have to reduce the infection rate well below that of the flu. Which means potentially months of even more strict “Stay at Home” and “Social Distance”. Do I want to do this? No. Do I think it necessary? Yes.

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